Rookie Days – Part Two

For the next two years I remained at the bug job – a steady pay check is nothing to swat away, and continued taking entrance exams for all sorts of police agencies, federal, state, and local. On the exam circuit, I ran into many of the same people time and again, each of us struggling to get high enough on an eligible list to secure a low paying, midnight shift job on a police department somewhere in America. It was a dream we all shared, and many of my cohorts achieved it before I did. Bruce Klinger from Ipswich made it onto the New Hampshire State Police; others found appointments on the Federal Marshals, Border Patrol and one even made the gold standard, the FBI. But getting somewhere seemed to be a problem for me; in the dozen or more exams that I underwent, I came close a couple more times, but inevitably found myself left at the altar.

The above sentence is my cute way of segueing to the summer of 1979, when Josie and I got married. As weddings go, it was a winner; a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, the wedding party smartly attired, the bride radiant, and the bar open. Josie was the third of eight brothers and sisters in her family to tie the knot, and I was the first in mine. Being the youngest of three brothers, you want to be first at something.

After our wedding and honeymoon, there I was, a newlywed, small town boy, knee deep in salt marsh muck fighting Greenhead flies for God and Country. For this I went to college?  Frustrated but not daunted, I knew that there had to be some police department somewhere that would give me a shot. After all, persistence counts, right?  But the last place I thought my name would come up was here in my hometown. Like thousands of other Massachusetts wannabe’s, I was on the statewide civil service hiring list, which included Ipswich. But vacancies in Ipswich were rare, the town budget tight, hiring preferences harsh, and competition keen.

But what Ipswich had was a volunteer Auxiliary Police Force. Originally organized in the early days of the Cold War as part of Civil Defense, many smaller communities maintained Police Auxiliaries to both support the regular force and form the last line of defense in the event of a Red Dawn. Charlie Surpitski, himself just a young whipper-snapper then, remembers many local luminaries and long time Ipswichites, including Jerome Richardson, Paul Badgers and others, filling out the Auxie roster. The Auxies had a well-practiced pistol team, and one can imagine them blasting away in the unventilated pistol range in the basement of the old Town Hall or at various gravel pits in town.

As the nuclear threat from our frenemies in the Soviet Union abated and Mutually Assured Destruction gave way to the Summer of Love, the role of the Auxies transitioned to one of accompanying regular officers on patrol during weekend nights, assisting at large emergencies like the Hill’s Fire, and substituting for the regular force during the Policeman’s Ball and Summer Picnic. For wannabe’s like me, it was a great way to learn about the job, see real incidents and the real people involved in them, and get some worthwhile experience with genuine cops. It was worth every penny they didn’t pay us, and, I thought, might look good on a job application.

I applied for the position through Town Hall. The Ipswich Police performed yet another background investigation into my swampy past and spoke with my dwindling number of character references, who weary of the continued intrusions into their lives by these nosy sleuths, had began to deny knowing me. Then I was interviewed by Mr. David Clements, who headed the CD and the Auxies, and his able assistant Dennis Cameron. The interview was held in the Civil Defense Bunker, a suite of rooms located in the basement of the former Junior High School; now know as Town Hall on Green Street. This was one of several Civil Defense shelters in town intended for use in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Here and in the basements of the old Town Hall on Elm Street and the Memorial Building on Central Street, survivors would transit the interregnum between Armageddon and the Rapture, shielded from radiation by quarter inch drywall screwed to two by three studs, sustaining life with stale water and powder-dry crackers. Little wonder the modern concept of shelter in place holds so much appeal today.   

After a friendly conversation and getting to know each other, Messrs. Clements and Cameron gave me two thumbs up, and provided me a shiny Ipswich Auxiliary Police badge and an old uniform to pin it on. It was up to me to get CPR and First Aid training, but I already had this one covered by enrolling in an EMT course at North Shore. All that was left was to get a pistol permit, handgun, leather gear and firearms training. These came in time, and eventually I was ready to go.

Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, Auxie service proved to be my initial entry to a full time position in Ipswich. Mr. Clements, the man who provided me this opportunity and to whom I maintain a profound debt of gratitude, additionally served the community as the Emergency Management Director, and in that role did much for the Town in spite of scant political and financial support. But this was decades prior to September 11, and traditionally, unless faced with a crisis, Ipswich has always preferred to do important things on the cheap anyway. Dave has since passed, but his daughter Janice Skelton continues Dave’s example of volunteerism as a long-time member of the Finance Committee. Civic involvement runs strong in that family.

For me, Auxie time was fun time, as I got to ride with the regular officers on busy nights answering calls, stopping cars, covering accidents, keeping the peace downtown, breaking up zoo parties, and doing all of the stuff that made up the day to day of patrol work in Ipswich. The best thing was the regular cops made all of the decisions, encouraged me to ask questions, and once made aware that I was a certified wannabe, provided some valuable advice and support in my career choice. Each of the cops was different in their approach to the job, and put their very unique personalities on display during the shifts that I worked. I observed what went into making a judgment call in enforcing the laws, participated in a number of arrests, and began to read from the opening chapters of the book of human foolishness, hard luck, and sporadic evil. For a red-blooded twenty-four year old, what was not to love?

In October of 1979, Pope John Paul II made his historic visit to Boston. Those around at the time will recall this as a big event in the City’s history; with large crowds, traffic congestion, lots of media coverage and fanfare galore. The security planning was immense and personnel from many agencies were involved in guaranteeing the Pope’s safety. The Ipswich Auxiliary Police were asked to provide people for traffic and crowd control, and many of us volunteered for this unique adventure.

A contemporaneous news story from the late lamented Ipswich Today newspaper shows a group of eight Ipswich Auxies; Dennis Cameron, John Hubbard, Ernie Corbin, Ronnie McLeod, Don Powers, James Melnyk, Carolyn Maciejowski and me as well as Bill Buckley, an Essex Auxie who had access to an Austin Prep mini-bus and who drove us in to Boston, all in pre-deployment mode outside of the Junior High School. Once in Boston, we were assigned to the Atlantic Avenue area in the North End for crowd control. But as things evolved and the crowds grew larger, redeployment was indicated. A decrepit Boston Police cruiser pulled up to our location and the well-worn cop riding shotgun rolled down the window. He pointed to five of us standing in an intersection, shook his head in apparent dismay and cried, “Hey, you *&@#$%* Ipswich clam diggers! Get in the car, you’re going somewhere else.”

We squeezed into the smelly cruiser and off we went to our new post; the Boston cops blowing a path through the throngs of people with siren blaring, horn honking and hands waving. The crowds seemed oblivious or reluctant to move off the street, but we eventually made it to ground zero with orders from the Boston cops to keep our patch of pavement clear of people. A little while later, a line of State, MDC, and Boston Police cruisers came blaring down Atlantic Avenue escorting the white Pope-Mobile, with the Pontiff waving and blessing the crowd from his standing position in the rear. The assembled multitudes responded with a vividly wild ovation. Keeping them back and out of traffic was a job for sure, but we managed well enough. It was an exciting experience for us that I will never forget; we didn’t make fools of ourselves nor embarrass the Ipswich Police. Score one for the Auxies.

We also covered for the regular officers from the evening and midnight shift when they were relieved from duty to attend the annual Policeman’s Ball at the VFW. For sixteen hours, the Auxies teamed up two to a cruiser, prowling the town, manning the desk and monitoring the lock-up. The after-action report indicated that the town survived, and the Auxies had a fun-filled Friday night. Sadly, this went away a year or so thereafter, terminated once the Town’s municipal insurer got wind of it and had a liability cow. Insurance companies tend to be that way.

Throughout that summer and fall, I rode along many a weekend night, listening, learning and laughing. I got along great with all of the officers and sergeants. It was a close-knit group in an even closer station-house; just three small rooms in the rear of Town Hall with a “modern” two cell, cinder-block lock-up jutting from the side of the building. The basement locker room had formerly been the lock-up, ultimately closed down due to its similarities to a Turkish Prison. A bargain basement (pun intended) toilet and shower, unreliable sewer ejection pump and jerry rigged photo-fingerprint lab rounded out the floor plan. One fun fact involved the cell block toilet flush-handles. They were secreted inside a closet in the Chiefs office. But remember, this was in the day when Ipswich had a “working” chief.

Later that year, rumors swirled that Ipswich would be calling for a civil service list to potentially appoint four officers. My desperate aspirations panted that perhaps finally, somehow, maybe, my ship would come in and my career dreams realized. At the time, Dave Brouillette and Don Cole were holding down two full-time temporary spots on the job and were shoe-ins for permanent, full-time appointments. That left two permanent intermittent appointments, the type that more or less assured an eventual permanent job as vacancies opened up. Doubtless by now you have deduced that I am by nature a patient, Zen-like dude. Permanent Intermittent status was okay by me, I could wait my turn. I just didn’t want to.

 In early December, my eyes watered when a notice arrived from civil service with instructions directing me to go to the Town Hall and sign the list if I was interested in an appointment. Interested? Josie and I were living in a one bedroom, second floor apartment at Bayside then, and my 67 Olds 98 burned rubber in all four gears rushing to Elm Street so I could sign the list before Town Hall closed for the day. But of course, it’s never that easy. There’s a process; fill out another application; undergo additional interviews, yet another background check, a physical, and then swim through lots of tough competition. The application was a dozen pages or more, and was stamped returnable to the Ipswich Police Department – Recruitment Division. Of course, there was no such thing, but it impressed on paper.

The Massachusetts Civil Service physical exam was held at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain. At that particular period in history, physical eligibility standards had been litigated down to a point where the ability to breathe and walk got you a pass, and potential candidates on active hire lists received a very cursory exam, under the theory that physically unsuitable candidates would later wash out in the police academy.

The morning of the exam, I made sure that I wore clean underwear and drove to the Shattuck. I entered a circa 1950 exam room and waited a few minutes for someone to appear from behind the curtain. The physician contracted for the exam then marched into the room, and on first impression, I thought she shared a remarkable resemblance in appearance, speech, and manner to Nurse Diesel in the Mel Brooks film High Anxiety. Then without as much as a how do you do, the Teutonic MD ordered me to drop my pants, reached a freezing hand beneath my under shorts, grabbed you know what and ordered me to cough! Being a slow learner, my initial expulsion of air proved unsatisfactory, and she repeated her command with more gusto. I finally managed to satisfy her demands, and she let go stating, “Good, No hernia.” Her attention then turned to my hands. Extending my bony fingers for inspection as ordered, she noted the less than perfect digital alignment. “Your middle fingers are deformed,” she frowned.  I responded that I used them a lot, but she didn’t appreciate my arthritic humor, failing to laugh as she wrote something on her form. I figured I was in trouble for sure, and fretted as she continued scribbling additional unfavorable impressions regarding my physicality. Finally, without looking up she growled, “You passed. Send in the next one.”

The interview was held in Town Hall on a chilly Friday. There were six or so hopefuls, all dressed in our Sunday best while hoping for the best. First up on the interview gauntlet was Chief Brouillette… again. Remembering our last go-round, I knew better than to repeat my Wambaugh inspiration and was prepared to swear that I never watched television. “The Brouill,” was and remains a sharp interrogator who never wastes words. His first question was pointed, “So, you’re back. I thought you were going to Vermont?”

I mumbled something stupid about my heart belonging to Ipswich and the VSP being an inferior agency, to which he countered, “I’ve heard they’re pretty good.”

This got me wishing that I was back in the physician’s office, but then he lightened up a bit, noting with favor my local roots, my time with the Auxiliary, and my obvious desire and persistence in seeking a police career. He shared his philosophy of what made for a good Ipswich cop; namely someone who knows the town and the people, understands the law but develops sense enough to apply it with discretion, and who conducts their life with a degree of honesty and discretion.

I didn’t know where I lined up on that scale, but I was sure willing to give it my best shot and told him so. He remained non-committal, telling me that I would also be interviewed by the Town Manager, Mr. George Howe, who as the appointing authority had the last word on hiring. He then wished me luck and said he would let me know what happened one way or the other.

I then walked down the corridor to meet with the Town Manager in his tiny office wedged between the Town Treasurer and Third District Court. Mr. Howe was a bundle of energy; very bright, inquisitive and decisive. He had me sit as he read over my application, results of my one hundred and third background investigation and looked at my college transcript. He asked a lot of questions, listened with interest, and gave me no reason to think I would be appointed. I left knowing as much as I did when I walked in.

Josie came home later that afternoon and asked me how it all went. I told her about the interviews and concluded that her guess was as good as mine. I then flopped on our Barbos sofa, opened a Wambaugh novel and switched on the TV. Around 5 P.M. we were making dinner when the telephone rang. Josie answered and handed the receiver to me. It was Chief Brouillette congratulating me on my appointment as a Permanent Intermittent Police Officer in Ipswich. I jumped for joy at least thirty inches off the kitchen floor, clearly exceeding my miserable performance in Nashua years before. As I landed back on earth, the Chief added a codicil. “We’re short handed on midnight’s tonight. I would like you to come in.”

And thus began the beginning of the beginning.

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